Pumas Quest 2016 — Toft Photo Recent Trip Report
It’s was a short one week turnaround after a month in Africa to tracking Pumas in Patagonia, but I hoped my new titanium hip and I were prepared for it! Just a short background on this trip. I’ve been hearing about Pumas in Patagonia for a while now and the thought of reliably seeing wild Pumas on foot finally made me go to Chile last April, 2015 to see for myself. I had a great scouting trip in 2015 with many Puma sightings in terrific landscapes and kept my fingers crossed for my first official Puma Quest tour in April of 2016.
After some travel delays for half my small group (due to an airlines strike), we all reached our destination in the beautiful Torres Del Paine NP. Three of the clients had already spent their first afternoon with a very well-known Puma named Hermanita and were beaming with excitement during our first breakfast together. Yes, I certainly was very happy for them, but three of my other clients had not seen their first Puma yet, so after a quick bite, we hit the van for a short ride to a good location to start our “Puma Quest”. One of the huge advantages we have over some other company’s running puma trips in the area is our “three-spotter team”. An hour before my clients and I leave the hotel, our team of experienced puma spotters have positioned themselves on hilltops in a per-determined location to start the process of finding a Puma for the day. This first morning proved the effectiveness of this system as it need every other morning on our trip — within minutes of putting on our photo packs and starting to hike, we receive a radio call from the spotters giving us the good news that a Puma has been spotted and we should get our butts there ASAP!!!! What a great radio call to get! We don’t have any easy stroll to our first puma however…after about an hour of quite difficult walking and hiking, we reach a rocky cliff overlooking a majestic mountain lake and lay eyes on our first Puma for 2016 (well, four of us do! As I mentioned, three of the clients had their first puma the afternoon before). As we approach, the Puma is walking along the rocky cliff and finally settles into a little cave to relax. Here we stay for the next 3 hrs. watching a very tranquil Puma sleeping. Yes, Puma watching has very exciting moments — and also a lot of very boring moments! Pumas, like other cats, sleep a ton! We actually spend some time in the afternoon photographing another Puma that wonders into the area near our sleepy cave sleeping Puma and finish the day back with our young male Puma who wakes up and gives us some very nice images at the last light of day. A great start for our Puma Quest 2016 trip!
Our second full day has us back to the same area we were on Day 1 and we get our first Puma contact within 20 minutes walk from our vehicle! We all get some very nice images as we follow her coming from a distance directly to our location. This is the very relaxed super star Puma “Hermanita” again which makes following her at close distance very easy since she is totally obvious to our presence. After about 3 hrs. of watching and following Hermanita, she finally lays down to have a catnap. During her nap a couple guanacos have wandered into the vicinity and start to feed 200 meters from our sleeping cat. Yes…things get very interesting – very quickly from this point on!!! We position ourselves on the other side of the guanacos, just in case our super star decides she is ready to eat. Hermanita does decide she might have a go at one of the guanacos and begins her slow, cat-crawl stock. My group is completely in awe at what we are witnessing. When she gets within 15 of her prey, Hermanita makes a rush at the fleeing guanaco and pursues her quarry for about 50 feet before she breaks off her attack. Wow!!!! We all couldn’t believe that we just witnessed a Puma hunt!
That same afternoon we decided to move positions and spend time at a lake which I had great success photographing a mother Puma and 7 month old cubs last year. Once again upon arrival at the lake a Puma had already been spotted by our advance Puma team and off we went. Upon reaching the white lava rock which surrounds the lake we look down and see our Puma. Wait…what is the small tan object next to her? It’s a Puma cub! And over there in the bushes, another cub, and another! Quickly the cubs retreat into the foliage as the mother Pumas moves off a short distance and lays down. This we find out is the same relaxed mother Puma that I photographed last year in this same location, but with her brand new set of cubs! How lucky could one group yet? We figure the cubs may be just under 2 months of age and are still quite nervous to be out and about with mom. Over the next couple days we see the family at a distance but never quite get in a terrific situation for photography. Our group realizes that we are just super lucky and privileged to be able to see this young Puma family in the wild.
On one of the days near the lake we also see and photograph this mother Pumas older cubs from last year. These two brothers are about 1.5 years old now and will likely be parting ways to lead their solitary lives very soon. I couldn’t be happier about our Puma Quest tour for 2016 and can’t wait to return in April of 2017! Will this mother Puma still be with her yearlings?? Will Hermanita make a successful hunt in front of us next year? Will we see the two male brothers in their own territories? How many new Pumas will we see???